About two dozen people from Cuba tried entering the United States aboard a 30-foot wooden sailboat Tuesday afternoon about 50 miles off Long Key in the middle Florida Keys.
The vessel was disabled and the people on board were waving their arms when the boaters who reported it to the Coast Guard first spotted it early Tuesday morning, according to a Coast Guard press release.
The crew of a U.S. Navy destroyer conducting operations in the area arrived first and transferred the 26 people to the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton. The boat was 48 miles off the coast.
One of the passengers was turned over to U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection for “further investigation and possible prosecution,” the press release states. The other 25 were taken back to Cuba aboard the Charles Sexton.
A change in policy made during the waning days of the Obama administration mandates that all Cubans caught trying to migrate without visas to the United States be taken back. Under the earlier “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which Obama ended in early 2017, those caught at sea were returned, but those who made it to shore could stay and apply for permanent residency after a year.
“It is fortunate that the vessel did not capsize or end in tragedy, as we have seen all too recently in the Florida Straits, and we are grateful to assistance of the good Samaritan and the U.S. Navy in this case,” Capt. Jason Ryan, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard’s Seventh District in Miami, said in a statement.